AllSportsTucson.com is running a series that features the top 10 games of the Fred Snowden era as Arizona’s head basketball coach from 1972-81 leading up to the 50th anniversary of his historic hire March 21. Snowden became the first African-American head coach of a major college basketball program when Arizona athletic director Dave Strack hired him March 21, 1972. “The Fox,” as he was called because of his prowess on the basepaths as a young baseball player, ignited the Arizona fan base with a run-and-gun style of basketball. The success of the program (reaching the Elite Eight in 1976) under Snowden, who was an assistant at Michigan before his hire, was a precursor to what Lute Olson developed with the program.
You can access the entire series by clicking here.
3. Arizona plays UCLA close for 32 minutes but loses 1976 Elite Eight game to Bruins at Pauley Pavilion
That’s what separates Arizona from its first Final Four trip in 1976.
Fred Snowden’s team was playing basket for basket with UCLA in Pauley Pavilion up until Bob Elliott made a layup with 8:21 remaining to tie game at 58. The Bruins outscored the Wildcats 24-8 the rest of the way for the 82-66 win.
The crowd of 12,459 at Pauley was getting anxious after Elliott’s layup. The Arizona contingent there was feeling a potential upset.
The Wildcats were coming off an epic 114-109 overtime victory over UNLV to advance to the Elite Eight. They did show sign of fatigue through the first 32 minutes of the game although guard Jim Rappis showed the ill-affects of a foot injury suffered against the Running Rebels.
Rappis made only one shot against the Bruins, right before Elliott’s manuever tied the game at 58.
“Fred did a phenomenal job preparing them,” UCLA coach Gene Bartow said in the postgame press conference. “I honestly think the last 10 minutes of that wild Las Vegas game took its toll on them. We seemed much more rested in the stretch.”
Richard Washington made two jumpers and Marques Johnson converted a layup that ignited as 12-0 run that increased UCLA’s lead to 70-58.
Washington, who finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, was named the MVP of the West Regional leading the Bruins to the Final Four against Indiana at Philadelphia. Johnson’s 14 points and seven rebounds placed him on the all-regional team.
“It was a fine basketball game,” said Snowden, who coached Arizona to a 24-9 record in his fourth year in the program. “UCLA has a great basketball team. We thought we could beat them up until five minutes were left in the game. No one was sure we couldn’t.”
Herman Harris, who led the Wildcats with 18 points and was also part of the all-regional team, told The Arizona Daily Star that “we can hang with anybody. I feel good about this season.”
The game marked the end of the original Kiddie Korps of recruits from Snowden’s first Class of 1972. Al Fleming and Rappis were part of that group. Eric Money and Coniel Norman would have been seniors but they went hardship into the NBA after their sophomore seasons.
“It was a successful season,” Fleming, who had 14 points and 16 rebounds, told the Star. “It ended a little prematurely, but it was successful.”
Rappis told the Star of his foot injury, “I couldn’t move too well. I’m grateful to Coach Snowden for letting me play. I really don’t know if I should’ve played.”
He paused and mentioned of his career record with the Wildcats, “81-33 in four years — that ain’t bad.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.